10 Easy-To-Avoid Grammar Mistakes

I’m going to get all Grammar Girl on you here. Bear with me.

I’m not a grammar saint, but I’m nerdy enough to both laugh and nod my head at Eats, Shoots and Leaves. As a communications guy, it helps.

A few basic grammar mistakes have started to really bug me. I’ve see them more and more recently, especially on micro-blogging platforms like Twitter.

I know, I know, you’re perfect. Feel free to skip this post if that’s the case. For the record, I’m not perfect. I make mistakes too. There, I said it.

Still here? Ok, I’ll begin. Here are 10 easy-to-avoid errors that I keep seeing:

  • You Don’t Need To Capitalize Something Just Because You Think It’s Important.
  • You’re/your: “You’re” is a contraction of you are. “Your” is possessive (it belongs to you).
  • We’re/were: “We’re” is a contraction of we are. “Were” is the past tense of the word “be.”
  • Fewer/less: If you can count it, use “fewer.” If you can’t, use “less.”
  • It’s/its: “It’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” “Its” is possessive.
  • Accept/except: I’ll make it simple. The "x" in "except" excludes things. Make sense? Accept it.
  • "Action" is not a verb. Don’t tell me you’re going to "action" something.
  • You were not "plurking" or "identing" or "powncing." You were making up new words (yes, I’m guilty of this one too).
  • A lot/alot: "A lot" is English. "Alot" isn’t.
  • Hear/here: A hint: "hear" has "ear" in it.

Those are my current pet peeves. What are yours?

Update: I just found three more in one post on a very well-read blog. I won’t link to it because, well, I’m not an ass:

  • “…don’t have a strong platform to stand from.”
    • You stand on a platform, not from it.
  • “[xxx] is not in a web professional.”
    • He is neither a web professional nor in the web profession.
  • “Companies should already have a crises plan ready…”
    • Companies should already have a crisis plan for when crises occur. Singular/plural.

Proofreading, people!

  • I couldn’t agree with you more. It astounds me when I see mistakes like these on published, “professional” signs… What a great way to undermine the credibility of your business!

    The other one that really gets me is improper pluralization – “Sale on banana’s”. Why the unnecessary apostrophe? Why??

    The fact that I both notice this and am irritated by it puts me right there with you in the nerdy club, but it’s a happy place for me.

    Good tips on remembering the rules, by the way. I especially liked the one on “accept/except”. Thanks for the post!

  • Amanda Laird

    Texting.

    You are not texting, you are typing and subsequently sending a text message.

  • Dave – Great post. Thanks for making me feel like an ass, because I know I’m guilty of many of these mistakes.
    However, I disagree with you and Amanada about things like “Texting” and “Plurking” not being real words.
    Times change. So do the things we do. These things become verbs.
    Similarly, I’d say that “Google” is an acceptable verb, as in “Just Google it.”

  • Hey Parker: I’m ok with language changing and in the case of Google – which has become an everyday household name – it has become a verb in everyday language. I would probably accept “texting” too, although I might consider “text messaging” if I were writing formally.

    Sites like Plurk, Pownce, and the like are brand new. Only a tiny fraction of the population has even heard of them, much less used them. I don’t think you can reasonably say they’ve become part of the average person’s vocabulary.

  • Caralin: I agree! Poor apostrophes – they’re so abused.

  • Wow, Dave. I thought we at http://www.inmedialog.com were almost the last of a dying breed, the word nerd! We’ve written several posts on the proper use of grammar, correct spelling and punctuation and the on-exceptions-for-anyone rule that everything gets proofed before it leaves the premises.

    My colleague, Linda Forest, and I are so committed to this that we exchanged dangerously geekie word nerd t-shirts this past Christmas. I gave her a Threadless number featuring all the iterations of their, they’re and there while she returned the favour by bestowing on me a neon yellow shirt that reads, “Bad grammar makes me [sic]…” Most people think that’s a typo; I trust you’ll know better.

    Finally, kudos for highlighting the fewer-less conundrum. Hardly anyone seems to care about this one anymore. I’ve even got my kids checking each other on correct usage…

    -Francis.

  • Francis – “on-exceptions-for-anyone rule” about proofreading, eh? Love it 🙂

  • Thanks Dave! I am sure there are many more..

    A couple of my pet peeves are the misuse of ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ and also I believe things are ‘similar to’ and ‘different from’, not ‘different to’ or worse still, ‘different than’.

    Cheers!

  • I caught that error when I read the post after submitting it. Couldn’t have presented a better example of the wisdom of my arguments if I had tried… 😉

  • PRJack

    Hear here! 😉

    Seriously though, that was a great post. Far too often–especially in marketing–grammar is overlooked in favour of trying to ‘sound cool’ or worse still because of laziness.

    Being a ‘word-smith’ or having access to one is very important. It may seem like this kind of concern would come only from ‘old farts’, but the reality is that grammar rules exist for a reason. Improperly constructed statements can–and do–lead to confusion and misunderstanding.

    My real personal peeves is the over-use and/or misplaced use of excessive jargon. Nothing says ‘I don’t understand my audience’ better than not knowing how to talk to them!

    A great book–which is less about grammar per se and more about communications traps–is “Why business people speak like idiots” by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway and Jon Warshawsky.

  • what about “there” and “their” ? 😉

  • I love love love Eats, Shoots & Leaves and am very happy to see others here who still value grammar and proper spelling.
    Like Caralin, the unnecessary use of apostrophes baffles me.
    In this world of self-editing and real-time publishing, it is very difficult to get it right all the time but I can’t help but think just a little less of a writer’s intelligence when repeated grammar errors are made.
    Thanks for this Dave!

  • You are so write … ha! just kidding!

  • While not in the ‘grammar mistakes’ category there is something else that erks me just as much.
    It’s something I see often as an Internet Marketer.
    It happened only just this past weekend. I received more than one email wishing me a ‘happy holiday-weekend’. Not at the end of the message either but smack bang in the opening sentence. Nice thought but I live in Australia!
    Here’s the thing. It’s called the World Wide Web for a reason.
    If people want to get my attention and arouse my interest in an emailed message then assuming I live next door is not the way to go about it.
    Nice blog Dave.
    Michael Searles

  • Ratcoon

    “If you’re the kind of person who insists on this or that ‘correct’ use… abandon your pedantry as I did mine. Dive into the open flowing waters and leave the stagnant canals be… Above all, let there be pleasure!” — Stephen Fry